Hygiene and personal protection
The coronavirus is transmitted mainly by tiny droplets of saliva expelled by people who are ill with the virus when they sneeze or cough. For this reason, it is recommended for you to maintain a safety distance of 1.5 metres between yourself and other people, either in the street or when standing in a queue.
The disease can also be transmitted if you touch surfaces contaminated with droplets of the virus from someone who is ill and which you then transfer via your hands to your face.
That’s why is it essential to wash your hands regularly and in any event always to wash you hands before touching your eyes, nose or mouth when at home.
It’s not so much the aggressiveness of the soap you use that counts, but mainly the mechanical action of rubbing your hands together as you wash them that works. You need to rub all surfaces of the hands: your palms together, the back of your hands, thumbs, between your fingers, under your nails. The correct hand-washing technique is illustrated in this video.
Proper use of hand-washing gel and hydro-alcoholic solutions
Hydro-alcoholic hand-washing gel should only be used if you do not have access to soap and water. The alcohol content of the gel you use should be between 70 and 85% for it to be effective. You can manufacture your own alcohol-based disinfecting solution at home following the recipe provided by the WHO.
You can also use 70 to 85% alcohol (ethanol or isopropanol, NOT methanol!) to disinfect surfaces that you can’t wash with a conventional detergent, such as the keys on an ATM or your mobile phone after you have used it with soiled hands when away from home.
When you go to the lavatory
The virus is also present in the stools we excrete. Everyone should always wash their hands after visiting the lavatory – for themselves and for others. This is a question of basic hygiene that applies at all times, coronavirus or not! It is also recommended that we close the toilet lid before flushing. You may not know, but flushing the loo sends out particles from the lavatory pan up to 1 metre away, which is the area you are in when you press the button on the cistern. Yes, that’s rather foul, isn’t it? So, putting the toilet lid down before flushing is a habit you will probably want to adopt permanently anyway.
There’s no need to wear disposable gloves when you go out into public areas. Washing your hands thoroughly is sufficient. Don’t forget that if you wear gloves, they become a possible "vector" for the virus if you touch a contaminated surface. So wearing gloves in the metro, then taking out a bankcard or mobile phone without removing them, or touching your mask with your gloves is just as likely to transfer the virus – if not more so – than not wearing gloves at all. In fact, the virus only lives for an estimated 15 minutes on the skin, whereas it can be up to 3 days on plastic.
Gloves must be worn to do jobs where they are part of complying strictly with normal hygiene standards vis-à-vis the customer (e.g. in butcher’s shops, etc.). And we all know that you mustn’t handle the customer’s food and then money in a food shop while wearing the same gloves!
Whatever the type of mask, proper protection for breathing requires a mask that creates a hermetic seal on the face. A poorly adjusted FFP2 mask will not protect you any more than a scarf. But a well-designed homemade mask will filter out most of the viral particles effectively.
The efficacy of homemade masks versus surgical masks was tested in a study conducted in 2013. Even if for the public wearing a mask is mainly about protecting others rather than oneself, this study showed an efficacy rate of 50% for filtering virus particles for cotton masks and as much as 85% for masks made using the fabric from a vacuum cleaner bag – which is virtually equivalent to a surgical mask. So, wearing a homemade mask is better than wearing none at all – both for you and for others.
A mask needs to cover the nose and mouth and continue down under the chin, with as little passage of air “around” the mask as possible, so that you breathe through the mask and not by breathing in unfiltered air around the edges. If you make your own mask, you must use the appropriate layers of fabric (see official tutorials).
Put your mask on properly
You need to put your mask on with clean hands and then refrain from touching it. The mask must be properly applied around the nose, sides and chin, with as few air leaks as possible.
Take the mask off using the elastic bands and especially avoid touching the inside of the mask.
- WHO video showing how to put a mask on properly, for public use: https://youtu.be/KuT1KNfJIjc
- Videos from CHU St Pierre hospital showing you how to put on and take off your protective equipment (mask, gloves) properly: https://live.stpierre-bru.be/channels/#hygienegenerale
Some things may appear obvious, but are not. So, if you are required to wear FFP2 masks as part of your work, gentlemen, you need to remember to shave properly – otherwise the air seal of your mask will not be guaranteed because there will be “leaks” caused by your facial hair and so your protection will be affected as a result.
If you have a single use mask or type FFP1, FFP2 or DIY mask, you can increase its service life by making a cotton over-mask that will protect it from contamination transferred by your hands if, despite everything, you forget and touch your mask.
Fabric masks and over-masks must be washed daily at 60°C. As a precaution, make sure you always handle them as though they were "contaminated". This means that if you collect them to wash them once a week, you will need to keep them in a closed container intended for that purpose. And you must also wash your hands after handling the masks.